Man Down

 

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A war drama in which superb acting loses out to a misjudged screenplay.

 
Man Down

Shia LeBeouf and Jai Courtney

 

Anybody prepared to relish great acting for its own sake should seek out this sincere but misjudged movie by Dito Montiel still best known for his first feature, 2007’s A Guide to Recognising Your Saints. The actor on top form here is Shia LeBeouf, but this film is not a one-man show since he is quite admirably supported by Gary Oldman and by the child actor Charlie Shotwell. With such quality work involved, it is sad to find that Adam G. Simon’s story has defeated the writers: one of them is Simon himself and the other is Montiel so he cannot escape responsibility.

 

At the start we appear to be in a post-apocalyptic world, but the story that unfolds is about the human cost of warfare and one is inclined to regard the semi-futuristic setting as a way of avoiding being tied down to specific recent conflicts even if the war zone is said to be Afghanistan. LeBeouf plays an American marine named Gabriel Drummer who is being questioned by Captain Peyton (Oldman’s role) following an incident that although unspecified is serious enough to require investigation. The tone despite a deliberately sombre colour palette is naturalistic - sufficiently so indeed for one to regret Clint Mansell’s over-assertive music score and the use of songs on the soundtrack.

 

Drummer’s interrogation is wide ranging enough to be illustrated extensively by flashbacks that introduce us to his best friend and fellow marine Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney), his wife Natalie (Kate Mara), their young son Jonathan (Shotwell) and the tough sergeant in charge of training (Tory Kittles). It is established early on that Drummer has been on a desperate quest to find his missing wife and son, but the film deliberately takes a roundabout route to establishing the exact nature of the incident that Peyton is investigating.

 

However, the past that this film gradually reveals to us becomes increasingly odd and illogical despite what had began to look akin to that brilliant drama A War (2015) about a soldier accused of causing civilian deaths. Ultimately Man Down will disclose what is going on, yet only after muddling us further by intercutting scenes that could be imaginary but prove to be events yet to come even though they start to be shown before the interrogation is over. What is finally revealed confirms that the subject matter of the film is valid and heartfelt and it even offers an explanation for the earlier inexplicable events. But it is all too late. The explanation could be seen as justifying what had seemed like over-the-top scenes but these seen cold have already alienated us by suggesting a director’s conceit. The approach adopted keeps us at a distance and that is the very reverse of what the subject requires. So the cast are fighting a losing battle here - but how magnificently they do it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Shia LeBeouf,  Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, Kate Mara, Tory Kittles, Clifton Collins Jr, Charlie Shotwell, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Justin Smith, Paul Sado, Pierre Kennel, Ned Yousef.

 

Dir Dito Montiel, Pro Jon Burton, Dawn Krantz and Steve McEveety, Screenplay Adam G. Simon and Dito Montiel from Simon’s story, Ph Shelly Johnson, Pro Des Aaron Osborne, Ed Jake Pushinsky and Mark Yoshikawa, Music Clint Mansell, Costumes Christine Wada.

 

Lionsgate Premiere/Mpower Pictures/Krannel Pictures/Binary Light/Solution Entertainment  Group-Signature Entertainment.
90 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 31 March 2017. Cert. 15.